All my life I was interested in dark mysterious places. Churches, cemeteries and caves. The first caves which we explored were small cavities in the Ural Mountains in Russia. Two of us went there with headlamps only. We did not tell anybody about our intentions, which made that trip look like a real adventure. Only a couple of metres into the dark cave I remembered the book “Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain and its not very happy ending. A panic attack engulfed my soul and we had to leave in a hurry. A few bats flying above definitely did not help either.
Anyway, I got a certain thrill and my love for cave exploration started right there.
Since then I have visited numerous caves. The most recent ones were Waitomo caves with glow worms in New Zealand. While in Meghalaya we had an opportunity to explore three caves.
In the photo below my true friend Sam is getting ready for his first speleology experience.
To get to the first cave we had to walk through some tropical forest. Nice easy walk, but very hot and humid. This sign was encouraging us to concentrate on the wildlife and listen to the birds and insects. Let me tell you that it was impossible as this area was overpopulated by cicadas. Those male cicadas make very loud romantic songs when mating seasons starts. The louder they sing, the more chance they have getting a nice plump cicada-girl. Judging from the noise, that forest had a lot of very sexually frustrated insects.
Finally we reached the cave. One of the “guides” immediately took us under his wing and we entered the underground world. For the first 50m it was okay, but further down it was very dark and there was a lot of water on the ground.
I found that cave to be very plain, not many stalactites or stalagmites, but there were a lot of fossils imprints.
That was quite interesting.
I decided to sit down and wait for the others, who had ventured deeper into the cave. It was a bit spooky to be alone deep underground, but I am a brave girl, so it was OK.
I survived the trip into the darkness, and as a reward I got myself a good looking local. Obviously, my charm did not work very well as he was quite unresponsive.
Mawsmai cave was the next one on our list. This one was quite spectacular with large stalactites hanging everywhere. Maybe because we had to pay a small fee, this cave was better equipped with lights, so we could at least see some great formations.
The corridors were pretty tight and in some places we had to squeeze or crawl through.
This combined photo shows a beautiful natural sculpture of a young woman. My friend Sangeeta replicated the same pose.
Exhausted from the heat and humidity inside the cave, we finally emerged to the surface.
The next day it took us more than four hours to get from Cherrapunji to Mawjymbuin cave. Because of this we could not visit the double-decker root bridge, which was really disappointing. And on arrival we found a very large opening, but a very shallow cave with a huge Shivalingam in the middle. This is a natural formation, but because of its definitive shape many pilgrims come here to worship Shiva. And so did I (maybe not in a very traditional way though).
The whole visit took about 20 minutes. When we were about to leave, two local girls came to look at us. They were very brave and friendly.
Now we will look at Cutta Cutta limestone caves in Northern Territory, Australia. It’s only 15 metres deep, but inside it’s like a maze. Indigenous people believed that all those sparks on limestone formations are stars from the sky, therefore Cutta Cutta in Jawoyn (local language) means Lots Of Stars. They never enter this cave because this is a sacred place where stars rest during the day.
During my last trip I managed to get some spare time and visit this local attraction. Ok, tickets wer a bit expensive: $22 against 50 Indian rupees (approximately $1). But we had a proper guide, great lighting throughout all passages and nice sturdy metal platforms in tricky places.
Inside Cutta Cutta it is relatively dry, but much hotter than outside. It is a tropical cave with 80-90 percent humidity and the temperature is 10 degrees higher than outside. Scientists don’t know the reason, but they think that poor ventilation (only one opening) and underground thermal water could cause this effect.
This cave is very rich in speleothems – stalactites and stalagmites. Some of them have very interesting texture like foam or popcorn.
Deeper into the cave we found a lot of “bacon” or “curtain” stalactites. They slowly grow and fold to create the illusion of fried bacon rashers.
This formation was called a jellyfish for the obvious reason.
Our guide decided to quiz us on what we could we see in this particular spot. Almost everyone saw an upside down dragon clinging to the ceiling. Can you see the same?
This was a quite odd colourful blob on the ground. The guide said that in this area in the ground above was a lot of sulfur, which explains this glowing yellow surface. I saw a lot of similar formations in Rotorua NZ, but that was on volcanic sites.
Continuing marine themes: this formation is called Octopus. I guess there is a very slight resemblance. But if I consumed a bottle of whisky before, I probably could see Neptune and the Little Mermaid at once.
This formation is called an Old Lobster. Interesting that half of it is white and sparkly clean, while other half is dull and muddy. This is because during rainy season this cave is totally flooded with dirty water up to the ceiling. So, the Old Lobster becomes fully immersed into it. However, when the water drained, clean water starts dripping and washes only the left part. Is not it amazing?
We also saw a few ghost bats (they have transparent wings therefore this name) and a cute little tree snake sleeping on the ledge. Sometimes even kangaroos come here to rest, but we did not see any.
And now back to India. This time it’s Tobo in Spiti Valley. My friends were still asleep at 5 am , so I decided to visit a tiny ancient Buddhist monastery nearby. From the monastery grounds I saw some holes on the mountain face. Walking past monk said that they are meditation caves. That was it! I had to see them.
Suffering from altitude sickness and particularly of shortness of breath I slowly but surely was climbing up the mountain.
The caves were dug up by monks to escape the chaos of life and meditate in solitude. Pilgrims also come here to stay for a while. All caves are different sizes, but all of them have a fireplace and a few rocks to sit on.
I need some time alone in the mountains. I really do. I don’t know how to meditate and I am not a very spiritual person, but this special bond with nature puts my life into perspective. I picked one cave and sat inside for a while.
While sitting there I got the most surreal experience. Suddenly quite a large lizard appeared in front of the cave. I was totally stunned. It immediately reminded me of a Russian fairy tale The Mistress of the Copper Mountain. The mistress was a young beautiful woman, who could appear as a lizard. As a spirit of the Ural mountains, she would protect all the underground treasures. The mistress was quite kind to the nice people who respected nature, but also could punish severely if her rules were broken. People would fall under her spell because of her beauty.
I have to say that that I was mesmerised by this lizard. It was sitting on the rock looking at me, not moving, not blinking. I calmed down and started talking to the lizard. I asked it two important questions and both times the lizard moved its head up and down like saying Yes to me. I could not believe my eyes and repeated my questions. The lizard shook her head again (YES), looked at me and slowly left. And right there and then I believed that everything would be great in my life, no doubts.
P.S. If anybody else told me this story, I would laugh and accuse them of lying. But it happened to me and here is the photo of the lizard.
For those who wants to know the end of the fairy tale, here is the link.